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Ohio State should have a big day offensively against Rutgers

It's J.T. Barrett's first start -- will the offense improve with him at the helm?

Matt Kryger-USA TODAY Sports

J.T. Barrett couldn't have asked for a better game to resume starting at quarterback for the Buckeyes. Rutgers' defense is terrible against the pass, particularly in passing efficiency, which should allow Barrett to complete a high percentage of his passes in the short-to-intermediate range and rack up the yards and build confidence.

But just as poor as Rutgers' passing defense has been, it's passing offense has been equally impressive. Gary Nova may be gone from last year's squad, but new starter Chris Laviano has been extremely efficient, leading the 23rd overall passing S&P+ unit. This means that this game against the Scarlet Knights should be perfectly positioned -- it will allow J.T. Barrett to work off any rust in his play outside of the red zone while also giving the defense another opportunity against a solid passing game before entering a much tougher November slate.

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
OSU S&P+ 35.1 29 19.9 18
Rutgers S&P+ 31.0 57 37.1 115

Big runs for Elliott, efficient passing for Barrett

The Ohio State offense should be both efficient and explosive against a very bad Rutgers defense.

Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.35 27 1.34 95 1.27
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 45.6% 34 47.5% 117 40.4%
Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 124.6 18 89.5 98 100.0
Rushing Success Rate 47.4% 29 41.9% 65 42.0%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.23 16 1.12 82 1.08
Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing S&P+ 112.4 40 78.3 119 100.0
Passing Success Rate 43.2% 44 51.1 124 40.4%
Passing IsoPPP 1.53 56 1.46 68 1.48
  • While the Ohio State run game shouldn't have an issue being fairly efficient against the Scarlet Knights, expect more big runs than anything out of Elliott. If there were any games where you would go in expecting to see 25+ yard runs, this would be it, as the 16th-ranked Buckeyes IsoPPP rushing offense is against the 82nd IsoPPP Rutgers defense. And after adjusting for opponents, Rutgers' run defense is just 98th. Rutgers has allowed three runs of 50+ yards, which is 103rd in the country, and six 30+ yard runs (89th).
  • The Rutgers pass defense is extremely poor in passing efficiency, but just mediocre preventing explosive pass plays, which is why J.T. Barrett should have an extremely successful day through the air against the Scarlet Knights. The deep ball has been inconsistent this year even for Cardale, but J.T. excelled last year in the short to intermediate range. Right now the Buckeyes' passing game isn't particularly efficient or explosive, but Barrett, and the Rutgers defense, should give Ohio State some much-needed practice. Expect the trio of Michael Thomas (who could be the biggest beneficiary of the Barret switch), Braxton, and Jalin Marshall to have an excellent week.
  • It's worth noting that if Barrett has an excellent performance against Rutgers, that the numbers themselves don't necessarily confirm that Barrett was the obvious choice over Jones this season, as Jones should have also had an efficient performance over Rutgers' pass defense.
  • Barrett should have plenty of time to throw: Rutgers is ranked among the very worst teams in the country (110th) in adjusted sack rate. Ohio State is 40th in offensive adjusted sack rate, which is actually better than last season despite the offensive line's relative struggles in run blocking.
  • Other teams have certainly gotten the memo to pass frequently against the Rutgers defense. Rutgers' defense is 122nd and 124th in standard downs and passing downs run rate (i.e., the percentage of time opposing offenses run against the Rutgers defense). That means that opposing offenses are more likely to pass than run against Rutgers even on standard downs. So, assuming Warriner and Beck follow a similar script, expect plenty of short passes on early downs, followed by explosive runs whenever Elliott does touch the ball.

Get ready if Leonte Carroo is able to play against the Buckeyes

Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.25 67 1.26 76 1.27
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 46.7% 25 32.3% 12 40.4%
Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 96.9 90 112.7 37 100.0
Rushing Success Rate 46.5% 35 38.4% 42 42.0%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.07 66 1.06 62 1.08
Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing S&P+ 120.1 23 150.8 4 100.0
Passing Success Rate 47% 20 24.3% 2 40.4%
Passing IsoPPP 1.48 71 1.67 111 1.48

The Rutgers offense is good at one thing, and one thing only: completing efficient passes.

  • At 90th in opponent-adjusted rushing S&P+, the Scarlet Knights' ground game doesn't inspire much fear in opponents, but that may be a little deceiving. A sophomore duo of Josh Hicks and Robert Martin have similar numbers, averaging 5.4 and 6.2 yards per carry and roughly a 48% opportunity rate. That's actually a great opportunity rate -- better than Elliott's, as a matter of fact. The Buckeyes are typically better on a per-play basis and are worse allowing the occasional big run, so this should be a good test of whether the defense can grow week-to-week against the run. Raekwon McMillan had one of his worst games against the run last week, so he'll have a chance to redeem himself this week. Simply racking up tackles won't be enough -- I'm hoping to see a much better defensive rushing success rate. The good news for the Buckeyes is that neither running back is particularly explosive, and they've fumbled four times between them.
  • Weird running stats -- Rutgers is 97th in adjusted line yards, but 23rd in opportunity rate and third overall in power success rate. That means one of two things (or a combination of both, I suppose): First, Rutgers was efficient, but against bad competition, inflating the unadjusted stats while bringing the adjusted stats back down to earth. This seems to be a large part of the explanation considering the 90th ranking in rushing S&P+ and that they averaged just 1.3 yards per carry against Penn State. Second, they could be decent in efficiency, but just poor in explosiveness. This is also supported by both running backs averaging less than five highlight yards per carry.
  • The passing offense is actually pretty darn good. They're a top 25 passing S&P+ team and definitely geared more towards efficient rather than explosive passing, which certainly helps the Buckeyes.
  • The only caveat there is if Leonte Carroo is healthy enough to go. Carroo averages 22.5 yards per reception with a 72% catch rate, meaning he's a reliable explosive threat. That average yards per reception would have put him third in the country last season. And that's not to say that he was less explosive last year, since he was ninth and averaged 19.8 yards per catch. But as of this article Carroo is questionable for Saturday night with a hamstring injury. The other top receiving targets are Andre Patton (a little less reliable than the others, but frequently targeted), Janarion Grant (a possession receiver), and Carlton Agudosi (75% catch rate and averages 15 yards per catch).
  • Their offensive line has held up well against the pass rush, with both standard and passing downs havoc rates rankings in the low 20s.

Stats to watch

Overall, I'll be watching for:

  • Laviano may be efficient, but the Buckeyes have one of the top passing efficiency defenses in the country. A sub-50% completion rate should be on the table.
  • No explosive rushing or passing plays allowed, as that's not the Scarlet Knights' area of expertise.
  • Big runs from Ezekiel Elliott when he gets carries, but more passing than usual for Barrett -- both because it's his first game as a starter and because that's what has been effective against Rutgers in the past. These throws will likely be short-to-intermediate routes with easy reads.
  • Don't expect too many sacks for either team.